“Arbor Day Proposes for the Future”

Students planting trees on Arbor Day 1968, via Ohio Memory.

Today marks the annual observance of Arbor Day in Ohio, a yearly holiday meant to celebrate trees and their importance to our lives and environment. Arbor Day celebrations usually involve tree planting ceremonies, both large and small, a number of which can be found on Ohio Memory!

Planting trees ca. 1909, via Ohio Memory.

Seen above and in a series of images from the Wonderful World of Ohio Collection are students at Brookside Elementary School in Worthington, Ohio, during Arbor Day festivities in 1968. You can also see more recent Arbor Day activities taking place in the University Heights neighborhood near Cleveland, courtesy of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library on Ohio Memory. Schools and communities like these often use this day as a chance to connect students and residents to the natural world, to reflect on their environmental impact, and to consider positive steps they can make to improve how we affect the world around us. But apart from Arbor Day, children have been learning this lesson for many years–as seen in the photograph from the Albert Belmont Graham Collection seen at right!

The first instance of Arbor Day being celebrated in the United States happened in Nebraska in 1872, brought to fruition by J. Sterling Morton, a newspaper editor who was passionate about nature and environmental stewardship. Morton petitioned the State Board of Agriculture for a resolution declaring the first Arbor Day, which took place on April 10 of that year. Morton, now known as the Father of Arbor Day, emphasized that Arbor Day was “not like other holidays… Each of those reposes on the past, while Arbor Day proposes for the future.”

Close-up of a panorama showing Arbor Day 1920 in Defiance, Ohio, courtesy of the Defiance Public Library via Ohio Memory.

The holiday soon spread, and within 50 years, almost all states had their own Arbor Day celebrations taking place. For many years, April 22nd served as the annual observance, recognizing the birthday of J. Sterling Morton. Nowadays, National Arbor Day falls on the final Friday in April, with some states and territories selecting a local date that fits best with tree planting in the region. Similar holidays also take place around the world, from Belgium to Brazil, Malawi to Mongolia.

But the Arbor Day Foundation, a nonprofit conservation and education organization founded in 1972, doesn’t just limit itself to one day each year. Among its others programs is the Tree City USA initiative, an urban forestry management movement across the country dedicated to “greening up” cities and towns since 1976. Any guesses about the state with the most designated Tree City USA communities? Well, that would be Ohio, which as of June 2016 had almost 50 more Tree City members than its nearest competition!

Interested in finding out more about Arbor Day and its “roots”? Explore images and newspapers documenting the holiday on Ohio Memory, visit arborday.org to learn more, or search online for local events taking place in your neck of the woods!

Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!



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